(CNN) — Indoor pools, recreation facilities and even business centers.
Guests could enjoy the pool or utilize one of the computers at the business center.
It was a minivacation for the family, but it was also a great place to hold business events, said writer and producer Ross Walton, a historian for the University of Southern Mississippi Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage.
The large, open space also made a great venue for class reunions and proms. The ability to hold these types of events transformed Holiday Inn into a destination instead of another hotel for travelers to rest their heads for the night.
A solution for swimming pools
George Falls cut the ribbon for the opening of the holidome at Holiday Inn of North Platte, Nebraska, in 1974.
One of the first inspirations for the Holidome came out of necessity, said George Falls, who was a vice president at Holiday Inn from 1960 to 1980.
“Swimming pools are just useless, particularly in the North, nine months out of the year or more,” Falls said.
A Holiday Inn in North Dakota built one of the first Holidomes to solve that problem, though it wasn’t called a Holidome until Holiday Inn later adopted the idea at their other hotels. With a large covered space to hold a pool and other amenities, locals could now enjoy swimming in a pool year-round.
Although the Holidomes were popular in colder states, Walton said Holiday Inn’s most popular Holidomes were in Florida.
“There’s nothing worse than taking your kids on vacation in Florida and it rains for the whole week,” Walton said. “This is a bit of vacation insurance for a lot of people.”
In the 1970s, Holidomes began sprouting up all around the country. This particular project allowed the franchisee owners a lot of creative freedom, which quickly turned into a competition.
“They were competing with each other to see who could have bragging rights for the biggest Holidome or the most elaborate production,” Walton said.
One such franchisee owner was DeWitt Hardin in White River Junction, Vermont. He opened his Holiday Inn in 1971 and later constructed a Holidome for it, which was completed in 1978.
The iconic Holiday Inn sign frequently accompanied the holidome.
Unlike the tropical oasis many of the Holidome advertisements featured, Hardin’s Holidome was inspired by the local town, which is along a railroad. Lush local plants surrounded a meandering pool, which was meant to look like a lake. Children could play on an old train caboose while adults relaxed in the sauna.
“I will modestly tell you that our Holidome and the inclusion of activities in there was the best in the United States,” Hardin said.
There’s no measurement to see whether Hardin’s claim is true, but it does reveal the level of pride each owner had of their Holidome and what it offered to travelers.
Magical — but costly
Hardin’s Vermont Holidome had built-in skylights that let the light flow freely through the entertainment space. At night, the holidome was magical, he said, with the moonlight reflecting off the pool and the gas-lit lanterns illuminating the space.
It was that ceiling, among other factors, that contributed to his Holidome’s downfall. Hardin sold the Holiday Inn in the mid-1980s, and the next owners did not invest in the upkeep of the Holidome.
Skylights were built into the ceiling of many holidomes to let natural light in.
The humidity coming from the heated pool would damage parts of the ceiling Hardin said, making it costly to repair. The Holidome itself was also a major investment, with Hardin saying it cost nearly 2 million dollars to build.
Years later, he drove back to White River Junction to see his beloved hotel and instead found an empty lot.
“You could’ve knocked me over with a feather, to drive down the lane and see nothing but a grass lot,” Hardin said. “The Holidome was something you had to maintain, and apparently these people weren’t willing to do it.”
As the Holidome went out of style in the 1990s, many other Holidomes faced a similar fate to Hardin’s. The entertainment structures may not have stood the test of time, but those familiar with the hotel remember them fondly.
“It was just a new dimension to what Holiday Inn was all about,” Falls said. “We became more of a family place.”